25 January, 2021

Stakeholder Engagement Strategies: Don’t Miss 40-plus Ways to Power up Your Project

By Mike Clayton

stakeholder campaign planning, stakeholder engagement, stakeholder management, stakeholder triage

Stakeholder engagement and management is one of the essential Project Management disciplines. But it is often taught in a simplistic manner. The standard ‘four-box’ approach to deriving stakeholder engagement strategies can easily leave newer project managers believing there are just four basic strategies they can use.

But this is far from the truth. In fact, there are many stakeholder engagement strategies you can choose from. And you can apply each of these with a wide range of tactics and approaches to suit your situation.

But, if you don’t know the full range of strategies, you’ll find yourself responding in a way that is too coarse-grained. So, in this article, we’ll delve deeply into the full range of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies.

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Let’s Set the Scene for Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

Stakeholder Engagement Strategies - Don't Miss 40-plus Ways to Power up Your Project

There are two things we need to cover before we look at our set of stakeholder engagement strategies. These will help any less-experienced project managers to catch-up. Particularly those who are not as familiar with the subject as others.

If you read the opening paragraphs and were not completely sure what we meant by:

  • Stakeholder engagement and management, or
  • The standard ‘four-box’ approach to deriving stakeholder engagement strategies

…then read on. If you know what these two mean, then do jump to the next big heading.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

What are Stakeholder Engagement and Stakeholder Management?

‘… and what is the difference?’ we could ask, too.

Let’s start with a short video.

So, stakeholders are:

Anyone with an interest in your project – whether affected by its outcome or process, or with an ability to affect its outcome or process.

Decode the Jargon of Project Management:, by Dr Mike Clayton.

Therefore, ‘stakeholder engagement’ is the process of engaging with stakeholders. And ‘stakeholder management’ is an older term for the same thing, which is still used but is now widely deprecated.

A Summary of the Stakeholder Engagement Process

In the video, I show a simple diagram of the five-step stakeholder engagement process. To make it easier for you to review it, here it is again.

5-step Stakeholder Engagement Process
Stakeholder Engagement Process – Identify, Analyse, Plan, Act, Review

So, Stakeholder Engagement, or Stakeholder Management?

As the video says, Stakeholder Engagement is a more respectful – and more modern – term for what we used to call Stakeholder Management. And the PMI is following along too. It has partially adopted the term in its latest version, the 6th Edition, of its Project Management Body of Knowledge: the PMBoK.

But, if a I have a criticism, it is that it has still retained the label Project Stakeholder Management for the overall Knowledge Area. And, I cannot help thinking that there is a simple (and foolish) reason for this. Every other knowledge area is titled as Project ‘this’ Management or Project ‘that’ Management. So, it feels to me like they put the pattern above good sense. But that’s just my opinion.

That said, we are waiting for the 7th edition of PMI’s PMBOK Guide to see how far they continue with the term Stakeholder Management (which they used in the 6th edition). Or will they come up-to-date and use the term ‘stakeholder engagement’ exclusively?

Stakeholder Engagement Management

A term that I do use is ‘stakeholder engagement management’. This is the management of the stakeholder engagement process.

Now we’ve reviewed the meaning of stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management, let’s take a look at the other thing I mentioned in my opening paragraph…

The Standard ‘Four-Box’ Approach to Deriving Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

There are lots of variants on this. But, the standard approach to charting stakeholders is to plot them on two axes:

  1. Interest
    The level of interest they have in your project and the changes it will create
  2. Power
    The amount of power they have to influence things

Rating each of these as either ‘high’ or ‘low’ yields the most commonly used stakeholder analysis chart.

The 'Standard' Stakeholder Map

A you can see, this analysis yields four stakeholder engagement strategies:

  1. Monitor
  2. Consult
  3. Inform
  4. Work together

Improved ‘Four-Box’ Approach to Deriving Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

If you have ever followed any of my training, or read some of my articles, you’ll know I favor a slightly different four-box triage approach.

Stakeholder Triage

This gives us the four strategies of:

  1. Monitor and Outvote
    Keep an eye on them and over-ride their preferences if necessary
  2. Woo and Win
    Actively persuade
  3. Inform and Coach
    Give them the means to influence on your behalf
  4. Enroll and Employ
    Make the best use of these stakeholders’ enthusiasm

…but the effect is still the same. A poverty of strategies.

This is as it should be…

And the reason why these charts give us so few strategic options is simple. It is because they should never be used as your only stakeholder analysis tool. Indeed, they are solely designed as a triage process – a quick sorting to give you prioritization and an early indication of the ‘kind of strategy’ you’ll need.

It’s Time to Power-up

Of course, for small projects, I’ll agree that this might be enough. But otherwise, you’ll need to go further. And that’s why I want to introduce you to a far larger set of strategies. This will really power-up your project stakeholder engagement.

Here’s a thought for you:

Influencing Stakeholders: Start at the Bottom

Strategic Postures: From Adversarial to Supportive

The secret to a good strategy – in any context – is to ask the right questions.

And the first question to ask, when you want to choose your stakeholder engagement strategy, is:

‘What is the appropriate posture?’

You have a spectrum of options that range from:

  • asserting our preferences, to
  • accommodating theirs

Let’s take a look at what this looks like.

Focus on Stakeholders:
Accommodating their Needs

The supportive end of this spectrum of stakeholder engagement strategies will focus on the stakeholder’s own needs and preferences. I’ll illustrate with three gradations. And, we’ll start with the most accommodating of their needs.

  1. Accommodating
    You are prepared to make substantial concessions to the stakeholder, to help you achieve your primary intentions
  2. Collaborating
    You are prepared to work together with the stakeholder, to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
  3. Consulting
    You are prepared to consult and respect your stakeholders’ opinions. You are open to compromises that meet some of their needs.

Neutral Posture

This is an even-handed strategy where you balance your needs against those of your stakeholder.

  1. Informing
    You are open to a full sharing of information, and balanced compromise.

Focus on the Project’s Objectives:
Asserting our Preferences

At this end of the spectrum, we have stakeholder engagement strategies that favor your project. I’ll illustrate these with three examples that move from a gentle pushing forward of your preferred position, to the most adversarial advocacy and assertion of your preferences.

  1. Promotional
    Use of promotional or persuasive tactics, to influence your stakeholders in a positive way, to endorse your project point of view.
  2. Defensive
    Resisting compromise and providing strong counter-arguments to your stakeholder’s point of view.
  3. Assertive
    Prepared to fight hard to optimize your project’s position. The extent of your tactics must be constrained by ethics, good practice, and the need for a good long-term relationship with your stakeholder.

Strategic Engagement: From Withdrawal to Involvement

The second question you need to ask, to determine your stakeholder engagement strategy is:

‘To what extent do we wish to engage with this stakeholder?’

Here, the answers will range from:

  • Active avoidance, to
  • Active engagement

We can illustrate the spectrum here with these seven levels:

  1. Active avoidance
    This will be appropriate where you are either not ready to engage, or there are positive reasons for non-engagement. These will usually be dangers, like:
    1. a risk of divulging confidential information, or
    2. a stakeholder that is too angry and poses a treat
  2. Passive engagement
    Here, you do nothing active to engage. You simply keep an eye on the situation, with a view to shifting level if you need to.
  3. Minimal engagement
    This is a purely reactive stance, responding to events and to your stakeholder.
  4. Low engagement
    Now you are engaging actively, but with minimal effort. Examples include information-sharing and active review of your relationship.
  5. Active engagement
    Building a dialogue with your stakeholder, so you understand one another better.
  6. Positive engagement
    Working hard to further your strategic stakeholder engagement posture.
  7. Full engagement
    Going all-out to get the result you want, with this stakeholder.

The Full Set of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

If we put together the two dimensions of:

  1. strategic posture, and
  2. strategic engagement

…we get the full set of stakeholder engagement strategies.

This leads to a simple diagram. The diagram illustrates this with labels for each level. However, you will understand this best by focusing on the two spectra. This way, you’ll be able to design your strategic stakeholder engagement strategy from an understanding of where you are on each axis.

Stakeholder Engagement Strategies

What is Your Experience of Selecting and Implementing Different Stakeholder Engagement Strategies?

As always, we’d love to hear from you. So, please share your experiences, your ideas, and your questions. If you put your comments below and we’ll respond to any contributions you make.

You might also like our feature articles:

Why not treat yourself? Buy a copy of Engaging Stakeholders on Projects: How to harness people power.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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